David Brin, “Sundiver” (1980) – I picked this one up at a library sale because it is the first of the Uplift War series, and A. I like to have a crack at many of the big SFF series and B. I’ve heard good things about its sequel, “Startide Rising.” “Sundiver” wasn’t great but does leave some hope that the fans of the sequel is as good as people say.
The premise of the series is interesting- a few centuries from now, Earth develops faster-than-light travel and comes into contact with a highly developed interstellar society made up of many varying civilizations. All of these civilizations were “uplifted” — brought to sentience and guided along all the way from banging rocks together to spaceships by a more advanced species. The oldest and most advanced species, in turn, claim to have been uplifted billions of years ago by the very first interstellar life forms. But humanity, playing the plucky upstart role it often does in this sort of scifi, not only developed space travel on its own but even began “uplifting” species on Earth (chimpanzees, dolphins, etc) without even knowing about the broader galactic social order. And so they mesh fitfully, if peacefully, in the galaxy, and people are still working out what to make of them.
This is all in the background. Mainly, this is a story about a crew of people and aliens investigating energy-beings on the Sun. Some people (and aliens) think these Sun-beings uplifted humans long ago, thereby fitting them into the normal galactic evolutionary scheme, some people… don’t… to be honest, it got kind of foggy (ironic, given that most of the story takes place between Mercury and the Sun!). There’s a sinister teddy-bear alien who wants to knock the earth-men down a few pegs, and a LOT of details about how to make a spaceship that can fly really close to the sun, some schemes, some really interchangeable characters… In the end, science prevails, and the mean aliens are kept from turning the neutral Sun-aliens against people. It’s slow. But it’s a promising setup, and I’m told the latter installments are brisker and take more advantage of the setup, so I’ll grab the sequel when it turns up on a used pile somewhere. **